A Seventh-day Adventist leader, pastor, and police chaplain in Canada recently had an unprecedented opportunity to witness to Muslims living in a populous area northeast of Toronto.
Pastor Mansfield Edwards was a guest speaker in one of the official candlelight vigils convened by the various levels of government on February 1 in the wake of the Quebec City mosque shooting that, according to media reports, left six people dead and at least 19 injured last January 29.
Edwards, who is the president of the church's Ontario Conference region, was invited to address the religious and civil leaders, as well as the community members—most of them of the Muslim faith—who packed the council chambers of the Markham Civic Center in the Ontario city of Markham.
The candlelight vigil was hosted by Frank Scarpatti, the Mayor of Markham. Its goal, according to official city websites, was to “find a way to express […] grief and mourning,” and “to show solidarity with our Muslim community.” The city of Markham, with a population of over 300,000, is known for its multiethnic and multiracial demographics. According to the 2011 Canadian Census, more than 22,000, or 7.3 per cent of the population, identify themselves as Muslims.
A few days before the vigil, Edwards received a call from Eric Jolliffe, Chief of the York Regional Police, a five-district region that includes Markham. Through the years, Edwards has volunteered as a police chaplain and developed a good relationship with law enforcement authorities. He was elated to find out he was being invited to speak at the regional event.
“These people need hope,” said Jolliffe when telling him about the vigil, according to Edwards. “And you have just what they need. I think you are the right person for the job.”
During the two-hour vigil, imams and Muslim community leaders, as well as religious, political, and diplomatic authorities of all faiths—400 people in all—followed the program in the auditorium, while another 100 watched the service on a TV screen outside the chambers.
Edwards’ message of hope was well received, as attested by the number of people who approached him after the service.
“Several lawyers and respected leaders of the Muslim community came to talk to me after the meeting, asking for my contact information,” Edwards told Adventist Review, as he shared some of the text messages and e-mails he has received since. “They want to keep talking about this hope, this optimism we have about the future.”
Edwards has already arranged to meet with some of them, to keep answering their questions and sharing the hope Seventh-day Adventists have in Jesus.
“God can open doors when and where we least expect it,” said Edwards. “We serve a come-from-behind Lord; in the end, His love will always win.”